"The Hundred-Foot Journey" whips up a satisfying cinematic meal for adults seeking respite from the summer's usual fare of thundering explosions and special effects.
Co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg along with Juliet Blake, the charming dramedy set in a thoroughly charming French village and featuring a terribly charming cast led by Helen Mirren might not rate at the top of the movie food chain when it comes to daring innovation and plotting.
But this predictable tale about an immigrant family's battle with an uptight chef doesn't need to be a revolutionary experience. What "The Hundred-Foot Journey" does serve up amounts to a tasty dessert that's arriving at the right time, just as we're anxious to cleanse our palates of buttery blockbusters and rest up for the meatier offerings of fall.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom with a nice balance of heartwarming and heart-tugging, this feel-good tale about an Indian family setting up a restaurant across the road from one with a Michelin star celebrates things all cultures can get behind: family, food and transformation.
The glossy production culls together the kind of ingredients that led more mature audiences to feast so hungrily on "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Here, the appealing characters, Linus Sandgren's enticing cinematography of southern France's Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and mouthwatering scenes of food porn are irresistible. Cynics will likely grouse over "Hundred-Foot's" predictability and overstatement, but when done right, they're all qualities that make for quality comfort food. And they're done right here.
Enhancing the experience are a humorous screenplay and sweet-souled performances. On the surface, screenwriter Steven Knight seems an odd choice for adapting Richard C. Morais' under-the-radar novel. But the lauded wordsmith who gave us the grittier "Dirty Pretty Things" and "Eastern Promises" succeeds in making his flawed characters immensely likable, while sprinkling in optimistic observations about the human spirit.
Even when the film runs on too long, the superb cast keeps us fully engaged. Mirren, as the stern Madame Mallory, is absolutely delicious, delivering one classic expression after another and elevating the widowed character a lesser actress might have made a one-note caricature.
Initially, Mallory engages in a feud with the Kadam family as they work to open the scrappy Maison Mumbai restaurant across from her refined, white-linened Le Saule Pleureur. Her attitude changes, of course.
Mirren's playful scenes with the head of the family, Papa (Om Puri), are priceless. Puri is her perfect foil -- tender, unpretentious and funny. When Papa begrudgingly accepts that son Hassan (a crush-worthy Manish Dayal) has culinary talents that simply can't be contained within the family restaurant, Puri reacts without going overboard. Hassan's "hundred-foot journey" leads him to new horizons, but his path early on intertwines with Madame Mallory's sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, also crush-worthy in an enchanting, Juliette Binoche way).
The resulting romance, like everything else about "Journey," is a sweetly tailored one. It gets a bit bumpy as jealousies rise, and main courses come and go and are praised.
Culinary temptations have been taunting us all summer, from Jon Favreau's "Chef" to the French film "Le Chef," and "The Hundred-Foot Journey" doesn't disappoint. From the sinful Beef Bourguignon to the stomach-growling Pigeon aux Truffes, there's more than enough to make our mouths water.
But there's more being served than food. "The Hundred-Foot Journey" nourishes us in other entertaining ways, feeding an audience craving a main course that's more focused on relationships than explosions.
'The Hundred-Foot Journey' * * *
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality)
Cast: Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes